The Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age)
This cultural period begins ca. 10,000 B.C. with the retreat of the ice-sheets northwards. In the South it was soon followed by the Neolithic, but in Northern Europe the Mesolithic was of life persisted in remote areas into the 2nd millennium B.C. The economic way of life of the Mesolithic hunters, fishers and gatherers was similar to that of the preceding Palaeolithic period. But the warmer climate provided different living conditions for man, with the spread of forests (birch, willows, hazel, firs, then oak with ash). Subsistence was based on hunting, fowling, fishing and extensive gathering of wild plants.

In Europe, settlement took place, mostly along the coasts, to exploit marine food sources, and by rivers, streams and lakes with rich sources of shellfish (settlements marked by very large shell-middens). Settlements were generally of small groups, and the camp site was shifted quite often, sometimes to exploit seasonal foods. Men lived in rock shelters, in caves and in brushwood huts. The Mesolithic is characterized by microliths - very small flints (e.g. small points and blades) often used in composite tools; technical innovations include the axe and pick (unpolished stone at first, later ground and polished for a strong cutting edge). Some raw materials had a restricted distribution, and were traded over long distances (evidence for travel in boats and sledges with runners). Decoration often consisted of abstract designs. Domesticated dogs (Star Carr). Agriculture and pottery adopted at the end of the period. Mesolithic centers expanded in Europe, Northern Africa (Caspian, Oranian, Sebilian) and Palestine (Natufian).

Mesolithic centers: The Azilian, developed into the Sauveterrian (geometric flint microliths). Maglemosan, concentrated on lakeshores (Northwestern Europe), fishing in lakes and rivers, using curved fishhooks and building weirs; wooden canoes and skin-covered boats, paddles.

Ertebölle: spread along the Scandinavian coast; deep sea-fishing, connected with barter. Hunting of large game animals, later replaced by small ones.

Division of labour: probable responsibility of women for collecting plant foods (wild cereals, waterplants, etc.). Domestic dogs.

Tardenoisian: small settlements. The industry may have been derived fro the Aegean; trapezoidal microliths.

Natufian (Near East): flint tools, microliths, sometimes made into sickles to harvest wild grain. In the later stages brick buildings evolved, e.g. at Jericho. At Jarmo, evidence for the development of primitive farming.

< Palaeolithic | Neolithic >

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